Why it Matters: A Global Legally Binding Instrument

Companies should pay attention to a new global plastics treaty that could impact business operations more so than the climate treaty.  How? By potentially impacting production and consumption of plastics, waste management, and chemical additives to plastic products.   

On 2 March, 2022 over 170 countries agreed to develop the first-ever global agreement to address plastic pollution and passed resolution 5/14, entitled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument.” The resolution requested the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) create an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution and address the full lifecycle of plastics.

The preamble to Resolution 5/14 specifically notes that UN member-states agree to:

  1. Develop an internationally legally binding agreement that addresses “plastics pollution, especially in the marine environment,” including microplastics;
  2. Recognize the important role of plastics for society, particularly in informal and cooperative sectors;
  3. Maintain flexibility and multiple approaches to address the full lifecycle of plastics; and
  4. Reaffirm existing work by regional and international conventions, including existing work to prevent plastic pollution and its related risks to human health and adverse effects on human well-being and the environment.

In response to Resolution 5/14, the UNEP convened an ad hoc open-ended working group in Dakar, Senegal from May 30 to June 1, 2022, to prepare for the work of the INC. The meeting included developing a timetable and organizing the work needed.

Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) Process

The INC aims to complete its work on an international legally binding instrument by the end of 2024 with the following notional timeline:

  • November 28, 2022, the First INC Meeting will commence in Uruguay to engage in multi-stakeholder dialogue and outline topics to be discussed
  • April 2023, November 2023, May 2025, and December 2024, four Additional INC Meetings will take place in Canada, France, Kenya, Senegal, or South Korea to negotiate scope, structure, objective, financing, etc.
  • End of 2024/Early 2025, the INC will meet in Rwanda to finalize the agreement for adoption, then country ratification

INC Scope Issues

Resolution 5/14 notes that the INC should specifically consider:

  • Sustainable production and consumption of plastics, including product design,
  • Environmentally sound waste management thorough resource efficiency and circular economy
  • National action plans,
  • National reporting, and progress assessment and scientific and socio-economic assessments,
  • Multi-stakeholder action,
  • Capacity building and technical assistance,
  • Technology transfer,
  • Financial assistance, and
  • Research and development of sustainable, affordable, innovative, and cost-effective approaches.

In addition to the considerations listed above, the INC has an open mandate to consider additional issues and may also wish to consider obligations, measures, and voluntary approaches; financial mechanisms with an option for a multilateral fund; as well as lessons learned from informal and cooperative sectors.

While there are numerous issues under consideration, the INC may also want to consider a number of remaining questions, including: how will “lifecycle of plastics” be defined? Which elements will be binding and non-binding?  What elements must/could be including in National Action Plans? How will the agreement address design, additives, etc.? How will stakeholder (industry) engagement be incorporated?

Industry Vision

Industry actors agree that an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution is needed and envision it to achieve widespread access to waste collection and technology deployment. Many in the industry recognize the role that plastics play in a lower carbon future and support life cycle analysis to guide policy recommendations, support innovation in product design and recycling technology, and seek to measure progress with standard definitions and reporting metrics.

Industry actors believe that the foundation of any solution begins with governments enabling a circular economy and implementing a recycling system that creates feed stock for companies to create recyclable materials. Thus, there is hope that all countries agree to eliminate plastic waste and develop national action plans fit to local circumstances.

Companies should begin to think through what their exposure might be to a potential global treaty, and determine which proposals may be unworkable for them moving forward, including as UN members begin to negotiate this November, and governments begin crafting national action plans.  

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